Xitang was not even featured on the latest edition of Lonely Planet China. I only learned of the place when a chinese friend recommended it as a sidetrip from Shanghai. He said the ending scene of Tom Cruise's MI 3 was filmed there - I remember that scene quite vividly - he was running on a long cobbled corridor with cloths still hanging on the lines, the waterfront houses were these ancient ones with black tiled roofs, the town was rustic and charming.
We were not disappointed. It was already dusk and the town was lighted with red lanterns - we walked through several narrow alleyways, crossed an old graceful bridge and arrived in a guesthouse with a courtyard that resembles a museum.
We had dinner in one of the small restaurants near our house, the tables were located on the riverside where old gondolas skim by, willow trees lightly curtained the view, and the food was very interesting. They preserve vegetables for winter and they put it in almost all of the dishes. (it was mustasa according to Jao - by the end of our trip, we could not bear to eat this vegetable anymore. even the instant noodles are mustasa-flavored)
We walked for some time, and even tried a gondola ride up and down our street. It was a very cold night so we looked for a place to have a drink. We found a small bar covered all over(walls and ceilings) with post-it messages from tourists, they served us a hot pijou(beer) which tastes like soy sauce.
The next day, we just walked around town, and took lots and lots of pictures. The town was so photogenic, I just want to capture everything - a cat resting near a window, a bike parked near a bricked wall, an old man washing his clothes along the river, an artist painting near a bridge.
And by the way, there wasn't a single english-speaking person in the place. Good thing Sym and Jao still remember their mandarin. :)
How to get there: From Shanghai South Train Station, take the 1-hour train ride to Jiashan. There are buses/minivans outside the station. A van to town will take around 20 minutes and costs about 35 rmb.
Where to stay: Tongcun Hotel, Tawan Street. 80 rmb for 1 room with a bathroom. We waited for the owner of the guesthouse to pick us up in front of the town's hospital.
More pictures of our Xitang trip on this link.